New York is a large and diverse state, but many visitors only visit the Big Apple. While New York City is undoubtedly exciting, there is far more than the state has to offer. Gorgeous lakes, charming college towns upstate and even world-famous waterfalls beckon outside of NYC’s five boroughs. Check out the best places to visit in New York state.
In Upstate New York, the hub of culture and education is undoubtedly Buffalo. You might know of Buffalo’s sports teams, snowy winters and association with chicken wings, but there is a lot more to this Niagara Frontier city. Buffalo is steeped in history, and a great place to start is at the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society Museum. Dig a little deeper by exploring the Nash House House, a home associated with early civil rights movements and even the founding of the NAACP. Then, take a walking architectural tour of the Allentown Historic District or head to the Buffalo Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in the entire country.
In Essex County, in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, is the village of Lake Placid. Despite its small population, Lake Placid is well known thanks to serving as the host of the 1980 Winter Olympics. More specifically, Lake Placid was the site of the now famous Miracle on Ice, the hockey game held between the USA and the USSR. Sports are still a major draw to Lake Placid, and your visit could include mountain biking in the summer, hiking some of the 46 peaks of the Adirondacks, or Nordic skiing in the winter. Whatever the season, check out the Adirondack Equine Center for horseback or sleigh rides.
The college town of Ithaca is located in New York’s Finger Lakes Region, where it sits at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake. Ithaca is best known for two things: Its higher education campuses and its surrounding landscape of gorges and waterfalls. If you are lucky enough to visit Ithaca, you’ll definitely want to make time to tour Ithaca College and Cornell University. On Cornell’s campus, spot the iconic clock tower and tour the collection at the Johnson Art Museum. Then, head downtown to Ithaca Commons, a pedestrian mall lined with restaurants and local shops. Spot some of the gorges and waterfalls in the area with a hike like the stone staircase that leads to Cascadilla Creek Gorge.
Just an hour’s drive north of New York City are the Catskills Mountains. This destination is an incredible juxtaposition to city life, which is why the region is so popular among city dwellers in search of nature. In the Catskills, you’ll find the Catskill Forest Preserve. This preserve is home to an abundance of wildlife, hiking trails and winter sports opportunities. If you’re searching for culture, check out the Hudson River School Art Trail, where stops include famous landmarks and landscapes painted by local artists. Woodstock might be the most famous town in the Catskills, cue to the iconic music festival of the same name.
Also in the Finger Lakes Region, located at the southern end of Seneca Lake, is Watkins Glen State Park. If you want to get outdoors and experience some phenomenal views, then this is the perfect destination. A narrow gorge cuts through the park, creating amazing vistas from the trails on the rim. In one two mile stretch, you’ll pass 19 different waterfalls! In the summer, there are outdoor swimming opportunities, and tour fishing is also a popular pastime. Backcountry camping is available, but many visitors prefer to relax at a local inn after a day of hiking and sightseeing outdoors.
As the name suggests, the Hudson River Valley extends along the Hudson River all the way from Troy and Albany in the north down to Westchester, just north of New York City. Much of this area is agricultural, boasting rural views and a bucolic landscape. Lots of farms mean that the Hudson River Valley can be a foodie’s dream destination. Organic farms, local wineries and artisan cheesemakers abound, and farmer’s markets are a staple throughout the region. Lots of NYC chefs are opting to head to the Hudson River Valley to open farm-to-table eateries, so you won’t have to go far to find a great restaurant in stunning rural surroundings.
Just off the coast of Long Island is a thin, long barrier island called Fire Island. Much of the island is made up of the Fire Island National Seashore, a former whaling base that is now a popular seaside getaway destination. A combination of the beaches and the outdoor recreation makes this an amazing place to visit in New York State, but keep in mind that much of Fire Island is seasonal, and attractions often close down in the winter. On Fire Island, you’ll definitely want to see the Fire Island Lighthouse, and you can also stroll along the boardwalk through the incredible Sunken Forest.
Close to the Canadian border is Thousand Islands, a scenic spot created where the St. Lawrence River meets Lake Ontario. This collection of islands is known as a place where the rich and famous vacation, but it is an accessible spot for all types of travelers. You can see how the one percent live with a tour of Boldt Castle, a stunning castle located in Alexandria Bay. Make time for a boat tour that winds along the river and allows you to see some of the amazing mansions overlooking the water, many of which are only visible to the public by boat.
Known as the Honeymoon Capital of the World, Niagara Falls is absolutely a romantic destination. However, travelers of all types will want to check out this magnificent natural attraction. Niagara Falls is located on the border with Canada. In fact, views of the falls can be enjoyed on either side of the international line. While views from Canada are considered the most impressive, American visitors will be able to get closest to the roaring waters, and there is an option to take a boat ride at the base of the falls. If time permits, head to the Cave of the Winds, where an elevator ride takes you down to the base of the Bridal Veils Falls and puts you close to the action!
Known as the Big Apple, New York City is arguably one of the most important cities on the planet. Diverse and always buzzing, there is an unlimited number of attractions to explore in the city. Most of the biggest landmarks are found in Manhattan. If you’re on a whirlwind tour, then the highlights might include a visit to the Museum of Modern Art, a trip to the top of the Rockefeller Center, a view of the Empire State Building and the New York Public Library. Throbbing with flashing neon lights and glittering billboards, Times Square is the city’s dazzling entertainment district where tourists can catch a Broadway performance and shop for souvenirs.
Read more: Top NYC Attractions